While some people will really savour the prospect of a ‘traditional’ final between Dublin and Kerry — I’m not one of them.
On Sunday, Kerry will set out to secure their 38th All-Ireland title. Dublin, often portrayed as Kerry’s underachieving city cousins, will be trying to land the Sam Maguire Cup for the 25th time. To date, the two counties have won a combined tally of 61 titles.
To put that figure of 61 All-Ireland crowns into perspective, consider the fact that the total number of titles won by Galway (nine), Cork (seven), Meath (seven), Cavan (five), Wexford (five), Down (five), Kildare (four), Tipperary (four), Mayo (three), Offaly (three), Louth (three), Tyrone (three), Roscommon (two), Donegal (two) and Limerick (two) comes to 64.
I’ve no grudge against Dublin or Kerry. They just inhabit a different planet to mine. If Kerry and Dublin are the upper class, then the rest of us of are really only paupers.
We’re like the ghillies who the gentry bring out on fishing expeditions. We’re allowed to watch. But we don’t take part. It’s their party.
Rather bizarrely, most supporters steadfastly refuse to acknowledge the hierarchical nature of Gaelic football. Rather than confronting the harsh reality that their county is doomed from the off, they prefer to cling to Del Boy’s fantasy. This time next year, Rodney….
But this time next year, it’s nearly always the same old story. While many fans choose to live in a dreamworld, managers are far more grounded individuals.
For example, imagine the scenario if Jim Gavin and Eamon Fitzmaurice both stepped down after Sunday’s final. The list of people linked to the vacant posts would be a mile long.
Given that the Dublin and Kerry jobs offer the genuine prospect of success and glory, candidates would be clamouring for the positions.
However, life in the lower divisions is very different. Look at the situation faced by Derry and Down.
Forget about getting the right man for the job. The Derry and Down county boards are struggling to get a man for the job.
At present the leading contender for the Derry post is former Ballinderry manager, Martin McKinless. Reports indicate that McKinless has assembled a backroom team which includes Joe Canavan (a brother of Peter’s), Mike McGurn and Dessie Ryan. Enda McNulty, a close friend of Dessie Ryan’s, has also been linked to the backroom team.
While the Derry County Board has yet to make a decision, the Derry public is already discussing the merits of McKinless and his staff.
Naturally, some are in favour and some are against. But when all things are considered, if McKinless is given the job, Derry’s gaels aren’t in a position to quibble.
When it comes to finding a new manager, the candidates who supporters would like to get the job, and the candidates who are actually available are two very different things.
Yes, it would be great if Jim McGuinness would resign from his job in Celtic and agree to manage Derry or Down. But that’s not going to happen.
Back in the real world, GAA managers are motivated by two things. It’s either fame or fortune — and in many cases — it’s both.
With regard to money, it doesn’t actually make much sense to manage a county team. Club football can offer similar rewards with fewer hours and less stress. With a club team, it’s two evenings a week and a match at the weekend.
At county level, it’s five or six evenings a week. That’s just the time commitment. Then there’s the extra scrutiny which comes from social media, journalists, pundits and online discussion forums.
Increasingly when prospective candidates look at a job in a county like Derry or Down, they make a very quick calculation. Once they deduce that success is unlikely, they conclude that no money will compensate them for the time and hassle which the job will demand.
And no-one should underestimate the amount of time which is involved in managing a county team. In this year’s Ulster Championship, Derry, Fermanagh, Armagh and Tyrone had full-time managers.
Outside of managing the county senior team, Brian McIver (retired), Pete McGrath (retired), Kieran McGeeney and Mickey Harte have no other permanent job.
It’s actually difficult to fathom how anyone combines senior county management with a regular nine to five.
During his tenure as Derry boss, Brian McIver would arrive in Owenbeg at least two hours before a training session.
During those two hours there would be meetings with a backroom team which included medics, physios, a trainer, a video analyst and a nutritionist.
County managers will now be handed data about blood tests which will signal if a player is tired and therefore in greater danger of sustaining an injury. Performance analysts will provide figures from GPS monitors revealing the intensity and duration of a player’s effort in training and matches.
Mickey Harte has a backroom team of 14. Just supervising 14 people is a job in itself. That’s before you consider the emotions, moods and personalities of a squad of 35 young men.
Bear in mind most managers would testify that the players are a cakewalk compared to the county board. Before any county team walks onto a football field, a staggering amount of work will have been conducted to get the players prepared for action.
Yet, when the final whistle blows, and one team is beaten, the losing manager will soon discover where the fault for the defeat lies.
He picked the wrong team. His tactics were a disaster. He should never have allowed those players to leave the panel. But sure aren’t his man-management skills a disaster? The tirade will go on and on….
That’s why managers are staying clear of county jobs. While the chance of success is low, criticism and ridicule are absolutely guaranteed.
Glory changes everything. When there’s a realistic chance of winning something, county boards can give the job to the man they want.
For the rest of us, the hoi poloi, county boards must first find a man who actually wants the job.
It’s a different world.
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